Despite Slump, N.Va. Housing Prices Still Top Charts

Large townhouses are typical of new development in Northern Virginia. The median sale price for a single-family home in the region last year was $495,000.
Large townhouses are typical of new development in Northern Virginia. The median sale price for a single-family home in the region last year was $495,000. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 26, 2007

Northern Virginia bore the brunt of the real estate market slowdown locally last year, but its prices remained the highest in the region.

The median sale price for a single-family house or townhouse in Northern Virginia last year was $495,000, up less than 1 percent from 2005, according to a Washington Post analysis of government records. Condominium sales were tallied separately. The median sale price is the point at which half the properties were more expensive and half were less.

Two of the 13 jurisdictions included in The Post's analysis registered median price drops in 2006: Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Nonetheless, Prince William County is the only jurisdiction reviewed where the median price is less than $500,000 -- Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun all have median prices well above that point.

Sale prices of condominiums declined in Northern Virginia, falling about 1 percent to $305,000. Regionwide, including the District and suburban Maryland, the median sale price for condos rose 1 percent to $285,299.

If you're looking for a deal in this market, look well outside the Beltway, said Debbie Tritle, an agent with Weichert Realtors in McLean.

In Loudoun County, for instance, the number of sales fell sharply last year while prices stagnated. When things turned sour, Tritle said, "Loudoun wasn't moving at all, and it had one of the largest supplies" of houses for sale.

As a result, she said, sellers dropped their listing prices to lure buyers. Some buyers have been able to get relative bargains. She cautioned strongly, though, against taking on a lengthy commute without considering quality-of-life ramifications -- an exurb-to-downtown drive can easily take two hours in Northern Virginia.

She recommended that would-be home buyers look at a variety of properties in different locations to understand how much the prices vary based on factors such as the distance to the District and access to Metro.

For example, in eastern Fairfax County, the median price of $525,100 would buy a small three-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath house on a third of an acre, according to recent listings. Less room closer in can cost more: One of Tritle's clients recently bought a three-bedroom, two-bath 1,400-square-foot condo, within walking distance of the Ballston Metro station, for $565,000.

Last year, as economists nationally debated whether the housing market would drag down the economy overall, the District and Northern Virginia felt the slowdown more than suburban Maryland, especially in contrast with the superheated sales of the first half of the decade.

Price appreciation in Prince George's County blasted past the rest of the region. The median sale price of single-family houses and townhouses in Prince George's in 2006 was $339,900, up 18 percent from $287,500 in 2005.

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